In the wake of a historic Southern Baptist Convention meeting, many who attended the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send North America Conference, including about 90 North Carolinians, declared it “a new day” for the organization and its work.
More than 2,200 Southern Baptists from across the country attended the event, held July 30-31 at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. Attendance nearly tripled initial expectations and brought together both older and younger generations to learn how they can plant more churches, while revitalizing existing churches.
Among those who led breakout sessions was Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest. Reid, a former Home Mission Board missionary, described the event as both a “home run” and “beyond expectations.”
Photo by Susan Whitley
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, told 2,200 participants in the 2012 Send North America Conference that “when we see the gospel properly, church planting will take care of itself.” The July 30-31 event was hosted by First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga.
“They had to expand the enrollment by hundreds,” Reid said. “And just the people I have seen here … you want crowds, and sometimes we settle for that, but it’s not just the crowd but it’s who’s in the crowd. This conference is both quality and quantity.”
Reid quickly added, “I’m prejudiced just because I see a lot of our [SEBTS] grads all over the place … there’s a lot of North Carolina involvement.”
“I’d say three-fourths of the folks here are probably 20’s and 30’s,” added Lester Evans, a team leader in Church Planting and Missions Development for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
“Huge! You can see a whole new generation coming forward with that heartbeat to reach people.
“When I think about how our country is changing so rapidly – culturally, ethnically – seeing the burden of these [church planters] to get into those high density population areas and cross the cultural barriers and reach the people, it’s just tremendous. It may be a turning point.”
‘A culture of sending’
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, challenged other pastors and church planters to create a “culture of sending” among their congregations. Greear was among a variety of conference speakers that included David Platt, Johnny Hunt, Louie Giglio and Ed Stetzer.
“At a conference like this the wrong thing to do is to leave here with ‘sending’ as another ‘to do’ thing on your list – another thing to feel guilty about,” he said.
“What we want is a culture where sending becomes natural. The gospel creates that kind of culture.”
Repetition is critical in creating a culture – even if that means repeating yourself “ad nauseam,” Greear said.
“I used to think that once I had said something really good and powerfully that everyone in the church had gotten it.
“Now I say it and re-say it. I repeat the plumb lines (“short, pithy phrases”) over and over and over again.”
Ultimately God’s people have to become “Kingdom minded,” not about building a “self-kingdom,” Greear said.
“[Learning that] was a huge defining point for me,” he said.
“That shifted my focus from asking, ‘How am I growing a great church?’ to ‘How am I growing a sending church?’”
Photo by Susan Whitley
Don McCutcheon, evangelism leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; Joshua Smith of Life Impact Church of Hollywood, Calif.; and Port Wilburn of Cross Culture Community Church in Emeryville, Calif. visit during the 2012 Send North America Conference.
While church planting remained the top focus of the conference, Reid – and NAMB president Kevin Ezell – added that church revitalization also is an important part of the discussion.
Right now, with the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist churches either plateaued or declining, revitalization cannot be ignored.
“You’re going to hear a growing interest on revitalization, which is a desperate need,” Reid said. “I think the growing interest on revitalization goes hand in glove with [church planting].
“It’s not either the nations or North America. It’s not either church planting or revitalization,” he said. “It’s all those working together.”
And good leadership is critical, Reid added.
“I don’t know a time in my life when I’ve been more excited about the leadership at the top – across the board – seminaries, agencies, state leadership. It’s a fresh day and it’s a good day.”
Other N.C. Baptist leaders shared their thoughts on the conference.
“Th[e] networking time was like pure gold,” said Chuck Register, executive leader of Church Planting and Missions Development for the BSC.
“It was very beneficial not only for our church planting folks here in North Carolina, but also for our office of Great Commission Partnerships as we had a chance to interact with our field counterparts in Boston, New York City and Toronto.
“I think in subsequent years [the Send conference] will become the premier church planting conference for Southern Baptists,” he said.
“I think it will rival some of the other premier conferences.”
Cooperation is the key, said Don McCutcheon, executive leader of Evangelization for the state convention.
“As we continue to cooperate and find areas where we can be most effective, God’s got a great work for us to do,” he said.
“I think what I also see is the bringing together of not just the convention personnel, but we’re also interacting with various missions and church planters. … It’s definitely a new page – it’s all different – that’s a good thing.”